TRIBECA

Went to the salon this evening of two long time friends…tho I haven’t attended in a couple years. If you’re unfamiliar with this word, you should immediately look it up.   I had no plans to participate, I was content to be in the company of creative minds. The work offered tonight was eclectic and compelling – prose, music, poetry, comedy, reflection…

Earlier, as we enjoyed the potluck and introduced ourselves, I noticed this t-shirt. I asked Scott about it, what it meant to him. GREENWICH STREET. You see, from 1973-1978 I lived in a loft at 357 Greenwich Street, the entire third floor. We now call that TriBeCa. TRIangle BElow CAnal. I was the first tenant in this former cheese storage warehouse. I built that home, I sanded those oak floors, those chestnut beams. I installed all the electrical wiring and plumbing, the pool table, the fireplace…2500 square feet. Eight 4’x8′ floor to ceiling windows.

I watched Battery Park City constructed and emerge over the Hudson River. My loft was five blocks north of the Twin Towers. On May 26, 1977, leaving my home to film my soap, Search For Tomorrow, I noticed everyone on Greenwich Street looking up. I did too…and discovered George Willig, climbing up the outside of the South Tower to its very top.

Tonight Scott told me, the t-shirt was something he’d bought in NYC during a visit…but I still appreciated the synchronicity.  I welcomed offering after offering, applauded enthusiastically, enjoyed myself immensely in the company of so many talented, accomplished artists. The evening drew to an end…and then a man stood up and shared a spoken word piece, a memory of his interactions with his father, as a younger man. His father had smoked Pall Mall cigarettes.

Suddenly, on an impulse, I raised my hand and Suzanne allowed me to “call an audible”. I rose, moved to the center of the room. I spoke of Jung and synchronicity; that the more synchronicity one notices, the more it occurs. I then pulled off my t-shirt, revealing my scars, tattoos and a nicotine patch on my left chest. I told everyone that I began smoking Pall Malls in 1961; that I had enjoyed them consistently ever since that time, without shame or regret. However, that I was now facing some pretty consequential surgery in the days ahead…and that I’d agreed to end my longstanding relationship with Pall Malls.

Tonight was DAY TWO without tobacco. I hate the Welbutrin, the anti-depressant I now take. It makes me downright fucking stupid, dull, light-headed…but it will allow me to wean myself from this lifetime addiction to nicotine. Just hearing those words – PALL MALL – that shit was as affecting, as arousing to me as a close encounter with a full breasted woman! If my yearning had physicality, I was suddenly fully erect and leaning forward! Goddamn, I wanted a fucking Pall Mall.   But see, that’s why I take the drugs….

This too shall pass, the immediacy of this yearning. Each day will get easier. But I have no illusions about the future. You do something, anything, 20 times a day for 57 years…something that you truly enjoyed… THAT ain’t going away, not ever, not in this lifetime.

The important thing is to HAVE a lifetime.

MY HEART STRUCK SORROW…

I was out for brunch provender. A couple heirloom tomatoes, a couple bagels from the Farmers Market, then a trip to Bea’s for lox and brisket. Driving south on White Oak, I glanced to my right and noticed an elderly woman, down on all fours and very shaky. I drove for a couple seconds, having a flashback…then pulled a U turn and raced back to that cross street, another U turn and parked in a red zone. I jumped out and searched quickly, discovering her 50 meters away, still struggling.

I walked towards her, helped her to her feet and asked if she wanted me to call someone. Her accent was heavy, Eastern European or Middle Eastern; she had a bruised knee and scrapes on her hands. I asked if she lived nearby…apparently around the corner. The cause of her fall was just another irregularity in the pavement, a small upthrust, enough to catch an unwary toe. I walked with her for a bit, she expressed her gratitude and I was happier to help than you can ever imagine. There was no other foot traffic on White Oak and cars continued to drive by.

Years ago, while in England I received word that my own dear mother had fallen while in her beloved patio garden. She lay there for several hours, until a neighbor noticed her and called EMS. Her left arm suffered a spiral fracture…and Mom never recovered from that fall. I was able to fly home and spend time with her during her convalescence and final days…but today’s encounter triggered a wave of grief and anxiety and helplessness inside of me. All I could think of as I circled back to this woman was my own mothers fall and the absence of anyone to help her for so long.

ANGELS

In early December of 1969, now at Walter Reed in DC, I underwent an arteriogram to determine the proper procedures to repair my combat severed carotid from several months before.  A catheter was threaded thru my groin up into my heart and a dye was injected into my body.  I remember the burning sensation, not entirely unpleasant and could literally feel the roadmap of my interior circulatory system.

They discovered the clot that was slowly destroying my left side and decided after a few more weeks, I’d be strong enough to survive the next surgery, a saphenous bypass.  I awoke in ICU, fairly groggy and have a few faint memories, but only that…a misty angelic encounter.  Those of you born after the usage of Pentothal as an anesthesia, Xin Loi.  😉 Y’all just missed out on one of life’s very purest highs.  Downside is that you really want a gas passer standing by, cause your body is so busy blissing out that you forget to breathe.  We’ve moved on to better drugs from which patients recover clarity faster…but I’ve had em ALL.  Trust me, Pentothal is the Gold Standard.

So anyway, come early January of ’70, it’s time for The Main Event. This is still early days in vascular medicine, which is why I’m part of the historic Vietnam Vascular Registry.  During the subsequent years of 5000 mile check ups, I’d visit Walter Reed and my doctors seemed to enjoy walking me around the halls and introducing me to their colleagues, saying, “Hey you want to hear a war story?  Let tell you about this young Lt and his surgical history!”  Some of them even recognized me from commercials. 😉

We went thru our pre-op drill, my gas passer by now an old friend and he allowed me to linger on the cusp of consciousness for a looooong while and then I very slowly slipped under.  During my conscious absence, they opened my right thigh, removed a segment of my right saphenous vein (redundant and very handy for non-rejected grafts).  They then opened my throat, quickly removed the small, blocked segment of my right carotid and grafted the transplanted vein.

All went well.  Very well…and I remember waking up in ICU.  Beside me was a sweet, somehow familiar face and a body that would bring eyesight to the blind!  My own eyes opened wide and I whispered in wonder, “You’re real.  I thought I had dreamt you!”  She squeezed my hand and said, “Sure I’m real.”  And with a sly smile, “I wondered why I never heard from you.”

Well, my mother raised no fools and before passing out, I had her write down her name on my nightstand pad.  Lt. T continued to care for me over time and oh, those sponge baths…Have Mercy!  Once the doctors had cleared me for more strenuous activity, she and I began an athletic affair that stretched on into spring.  Clearly my medical work had been top notch. Forget about standard cardio stress tests; THAT’s the way you wanna go!

And then the Army sent HER to Vietnam.  Story of my life…